Absorbed in attention: The Interpassivity Trap?

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have been hailed as the authors of the Communist Manifesto for the 21st century. Others hold that this doesn’t constitute praise but pretty much amounts to damnation. Again, others maintain that Negri and Hardt’s writings amount to nothing but unsubstantiated, utopian nonsense.

Be that as it may. What’s interesting is Hardt and Negri’s analysis of what’s really going on in our brave new media world 2.0.


In their latest work, “Declaration” (2012), the duo refers to Gilles Deleuze to point out the subtleties of repression in 21st century democracies.

“In previous eras it often appeared that in relation to the media political action was stifled primarily by the fact that people didn’t have sufficient access to information or the means to communicate and express their own views. Indeed today repressive governments attempt to limit access to websites, close down blogs and Facebook pages, attack journalists, and generally block access to information. (…)

We are more concerned, though, about the ways that today’s mediatized subjects suffer from the opposite problem, stifled by a surplus of information, communication, and expression. “The problem is no longer getting people to express themselves,” Gilles Deleuze explains, “but providing little gaps of solitude and silence in which they might eventually find something to say. Repressive forces don’t stop people from expressing themselves, but rather, force them to express themselves. What a relief to have nothing to say, the right to say nothing, because only then is there a chance of framing the rare, and ever rarer, the thing that might be worth saying.”

Hardt, Michael; Negri, Antonio (2012-05-08). Declaration (pp. 14-15). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition. (my bold print)

“Is it possible”, Hardt and Negri ask (ibid.), “that in their voluntary communication and expression, in their blogging and web browsing and social media practices, people are contributing to instead of contesting repressive forces?

Hardt and Negri are concerned about the mediatized citizen: a figure far removed from the alienated worker of the industrial age, but nevertheless tricked into inaction.

“Whereas the consciousness of the alienated worker is separated or divided, the consciousness of the mediatized is subsumed or absorbed in the web. The consciousness of the mediatized is not really split but fragmented and dispersed. The media, furthermore, don’t really make you passive. In fact, they constantly call on you to participate, to choose what you like, to contribute your opinions, to narrate your life. The media are constantly responsive to your likes and dislikes, and in return you are constantly attentive. The mediatized is thus a subjectivity that is paradoxically neither active nor passive but rather constantly absorbed in attention.

Hardt, Michael; Negri, Antonio (2012-05-08). Declaration (p. 16). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition. (my bold print)

Which reminds of a colleague of mine, Hagen Schölzel, who recently attended a conference about “Interactive Metal Fatigue.” I should get him to write here about Interpassivity, one of his favourite topics. But first something else… Wait a minute. […] Now what did I want to do? I should resist, shouldn’t I?

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